Utah Girl Receives $100K from Drunk Goggle School Injury
When parents send their children off to school each day, they have a reasonable expectation that their kids will return home at the end of the day without incident or injury. Of course, kids are known for their tendency to play a little too roughly sometimes and to generally do things they shouldn’t. But teachers and other school officials have a responsibility to act in a way that protects the safety of all students and make sure school facilities are kept free of all reasonably noticeable dangers.
A recent case in Utah shows how a teacher’s lapse in judgement can be have a serious impact on a student’s life. On May 9, 2014, Kylie Nielsen was attending a health education class about the dangers of alcohol. As part of the class, Kylie and other students were given “drunk goggles” to wear, which simulate the way alcohol can impair a person’s perception and vision.
During the exercise, the teacher encouraged students to run around the classroom and play tag while wearing the goggles. Unfortunately, the classroom was full of things like desks, chairs, and other things which could easily be tripped over. As the students ran around the room wearing the goggles, Kylie’s foot got caught on a desk, causing serious injuries to her leg and ankle. The accident required her to have two surgeries and one of her legs is now shorter than the other.
Before the accident, Kylie had been active on the school’s track team, but she is no longer able to participate. Any kind of physical activity now causes her to suffer pain and swelling. Her family sued the school district and the case was recently settled for $100,000, which includes $13,000 for medical expenses, about $26,0000 in legal fees, and $61,000 for a trust fund which Kylie will have access to when she turns 18.
Over 14 million child injuries occur in the United States every year and it’s estimated that over a quarter of those happen on school property. But if a student is injured on school property during the school day, filing a lawsuit can be complicated. Since school districts are considered government entities, they’re covered by a concept known as “sovereign immunity,” which protects them from many types of lawsuits. However, there are some circumstances in which schools can be sued.
Generally speaking, schools are not protected by sovereign immunity if a case involves premises liability or negligent supervision. If a student is injured on school property because the school failed to properly maintain the building or grounds or neglected to remove reasonably noticeable safety hazards, that would be considered premises liability. The incident involved in this lawsuit fell into the category of negligent supervision. In this case, the teacher should have reasonably known that having students run around a classroom full of trip hazards while wearing goggles that deliberately impair their vision could easily result in an injury.